How to un-accept a job offer?
July 30, 2008 7:45 PM   Subscribe

MeFi lawyers, professionals and other grown-ups: how can I renege on a permanent job offer with a law firm that I tentatively accepted without burning too many bridges? Or is there a better solution?

I am just starting out in the professional world and could use some perspective from the wiser, more experienced folks here.

Background: I am in the last month of a contract position with a small law firm. Law firm is in Big City A, and I live with my husband in Small City B, about ninety minutes away (though the commute is longer with traffic). The plan was for me to commute for the term of the contract, and if I got a permanent position, for us to sell the house and move to Big City A.

Law Firm has made it clear that they are very happy with me, and for the most part I am very happy with them. About five months into my contract they extended to me a verbal offer of permanent employment. Salary and benefits were discussed. After some consideration, I told them I would accept their offer pending its presentation to me in writing on the terms we discussed.

Months have passed, we’ve been swamped at work, and they haven’t gotten anything to me in writing yet. In the meantime, moving to Big City A has become less and less appealing: the cost of living is absurd, and even with my substantial raise our quality of life would take a hit; my commute would still be about forty minutes to an hour each way due to the traffic; and we would be further away from friends and family. Most importantly, though, the past months have been very tough on our marriage, and while we’ve made a lot of progress in recent weeks, the stress of a big move would be disastrous to us. Given a choice between my job and my marriage, the answer is a no-brainer: the marriage wins. However, I realize that in the professional world, and the legal profession especially, this kind of dedication to one’s personal life is a serious liability.

To complicate things further, the reason I got the job in Big City A in the first place is that the job market in Small City B is, well, small. I am skeptical about the options for a newly minted lawyer and am very worried about not being able to find a job after having given up a good one in Big City A.

Law Firm has treated me well. They are very clearly acting as though I will be staying there permanently and if I leave without a replacement lined up it will be difficult for them. I would like to limit any hardship on their part as much as I can.

With all that said, my questions are:

1. How do I tell Law Firm of my decision? Do I tell them the real reason or will that come back to haunt me?

2. If I wait to tell Law Firm until I have something lined up in Small City B it will probably be better for me, but it will in all likelihood leave them short staffed. However, if I tell them now, and can’t find a job in Small City B, there may be no going back. When should I tell them?

Also, any other advice or wisdom you have to bestow is greatly appreciated. Throwaway email at anon_mefi_law@hotmail.com.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (12 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
I wonder if you've really investigated all the options for living in Big City A without a terrible commute. Even if, for example, Big City A was New York City, a very high cost of living area, there are places in Brooklyn, Queens, parts of New Jersey, or even in Manhattan where two could live relatively cheaply if you don't need a trendy area or a gorgeous apartment. I know a public interest lawyer who is living on a relatively low salary just fine in Spanish Harlem. There is certainly no need to commute 40-60 minutes each way in traffic - you could live somewhere where there is a fast train or subway.

As far as the stress of a big move, there are movers you can buy who will come, pack everything up for you, and move you. It's as low-stress as a move can get. I wonder if your firm would pay for some of that expense. Certainly, if that's the cost of saving your marriage while advancing your career, it might be worth it even if it were out of pocket.

However, forgive my amateur psychoanalysis, but I wonder if there are deeper psychological things going on here. This is just my gut instinct, but it sounds like you really may be nervous about your relationship and the challenges of your new position, rather than the practical difficulties you're talking about. Maybe you are the proverbial person afraid of success and trying desperately to escape it, thus the cynical and self-pitying "I realize that in the professional world, and the legal profession especially, this kind of dedication to one’s personal life is a serious liability." At any firm you would want to work at, people work hard, but this is an exaggeration.
posted by shivohum at 8:06 PM on July 30, 2008


I work at a megacorp, not in a legal field, but we're all supposed to be professional and soulless. There is a well-respected guy at my office recently that recently took an internal transfer within the company to move to a location closer to his family. He was upfront and nobody gave him any flak. I was pretty impressed that he was able to be open and honest about this here at megacorp.

So, I suggest you do the open and honest route. Say like he said: "My family situation has changed and I need to spend time more with my family in City B. Unfortunately, that means I can no longer work in City A. This was a difficult decision for me to make as I enjoyed working with you all."

About timing? Give 2 weeks notice and don't worry about it further. They're big boys and girls, they can staff their own jobs. You're not that special, you'll be replaced (or your job function ignored) more easily than you think.
posted by crazycanuck at 8:14 PM on July 30, 2008 [1 favorite]


You were never offered a job, so there's no problem with "un-accepting" any offer. Verbal job offers aren't worth the paper they're written on. Unless you're managing hundreds of employees or are a partial owner of a company, you can and will be replaced. Giving two weeks notice is all you ever need to do in such a situation. Giving more will just result in you being fired in two weeks.

Look for jobs. Indicate to prospective employers that you are currently employed and that you'd rather not have them contact your current firm. This is a normal request and is how the rest of us deal with the same situation. If they do insist on contacting your current firm, you're probably doing alright, but you still have a choice.
posted by saeculorum at 8:49 PM on July 30, 2008 [2 favorites]


IAAL, and the above comments from shiv, crazy and saeculorum seem reasonable. This is not a big deal, and the idea that you'd somehow be blacklisted or despised forever is just your fear talking.

That said, I'd recommend staying on until you find a new job in City B.

Re: Verbal ["oral" is closer to the mark] job offers aren't worth the paper they're written on. I haven't had a written contract at any firm where I've been employed. I'd be surprised if it's considered the norm, but maybe it is the norm in City A. The OP was asked to stay on. We don't know exactly who said what. But it appears she's got a job there and she's not going to be summarily terminated at any specific date.

Re: I realize that in the professional world, and the legal profession especially, this kind of dedication to one’s personal life is a serious liability. I find this almost insulting, but I understand you're trying to deal with your mixed feelings (not fully revealed here) so I'll let it pass.
posted by JimN2TAW at 9:09 PM on July 30, 2008


I realize that in the professional world, and the legal profession especially, this kind of dedication to one’s personal life is a serious liability.


It doesn't have to be. Honesty is the best policy in these matters. While you are happy with the firm and they are happy with you, you have family and personal issues that prevent this from working out. A big firm job in a big city can be, and usually is, soul sucking. There are long hours and many stresses, balanced by lots of money, and sometimes if you are in the right place, interesting work. Greed drives most firms and the quest for high salaries drives them to push both partners and associates very, very hard. Many lawyers in such situations find having a successful family life more than a bit difficult, although that is not universal as individual lawyers and firms all differ. Anyway, if you leave them now (long notice would likely be appreciated) you may have closed that specific door, but not the doors into other firms. Yes, people talk and industries like law can be remarkably small and close knit, but even still it would be somewhat unseemly for the folks at this firm to go around talking ill about you to other firms in town. You may even find that with an honest discussion of why you are leaving and a willingness to stick around for a while to give them time to adapt that there really are no hard feelings. There are no universal answers in these matters, only the ones that fit you and your situation.
posted by caddis at 10:07 PM on July 30, 2008


I haven't had a written contract at any firm where I've been employed. I'd be surprised if it's considered the norm, but maybe it is the norm in City A.

Note, however, that an offer letter is not necessarily the same thing as an employment contract. IAAL, and I have, aside from one occasion, always had a written offer letter.

I, too, would recommend finding alternative employment before leaving the job you are currently in.

(this is not legal advice, I am not your lawyer, etc.)
posted by The World Famous at 12:02 AM on July 31, 2008


I think the core issue is here: "the past months have been very tough on our marriage, and while we’ve made a lot of progress in recent weeks, the stress of a big move would be disastrous to us. Given a choice between my job and my marriage, the answer is a no-brainer: the marriage wins."

Yes, your marriage comes first, but it sounds like there may be other issues that you can deal with to make things better.

For example, you may find that while a 40 - 60 minute commute does add stress to your life, there are other things you can do to reduce the stress at home. For instance, being firm about leaving work at a certain time, not habitually working weekends, etc.

In addition, there may be underlying relationship issues that you can deal with that. It's possible that the commute only exacerbates an underlying problem. You may figure out what this is with your partner, or you may consider couples counseling to help figure out if there's something that you're not seeing.

You and your partner can do things to improve your marriage that do not necessarily require you to have a short commute or a different job. You may find that, indeed, the long commute is right out. But it sounds like you have other options to explore that may reveal ways that you and your partner can find a better relationship, even in the face of some external stress.
posted by zippy at 12:41 AM on July 31, 2008


Note, however, that an offer letter is not necessarily the same thing as an employment contract. IAAL, and I have, aside from one occasion, always had a written offer letter.

Yes, you're right, Famous. It's been awhile since the last time I received a job offer, and I didn't realize the OP might have been referring to a letter spelling out basic terms, rather than a more formal contract.
posted by JimN2TAW at 5:05 AM on July 31, 2008


Maybe another approach. Could you perhaps ask your company if you could work from home some of the time or say only work 3 days a week?
posted by rus at 6:22 AM on July 31, 2008


You're going to burn some bridges by backing out of this job offer. Full stop. That's how the law world works.

So, if it's worth it to you to burn bridges, just burn them as gracefully as possible. Write a beautiful, eloquent letter telling them that unexpected family issues will make it impossible for you to relocate at this time, and therefore you'll have to decline their generous offer of employment. You regret, yadda yadda, and what not.

It is almost certain that you will be perceived (if you're female, like the majority of people who have husbands) as a flighty woman who inconvenienced a Big Important Law Firm because she wanted to play Barbie's Dream House. That's also how the law world works.

But there it is. You're making this decision for what seem to me to be quite good reasons--more importantly, they seem to you to be quite good reasons. Don't second-guess yourself because of what assholes think.
posted by Sidhedevil at 8:38 AM on July 31, 2008 [1 favorite]


Tell them its a family thing. You don't have to go into details at all. Maybe they'll hold it against you, but I doubt it. In fact, its' more likely they will understand.
posted by xammerboy at 9:35 AM on July 31, 2008


Tell them its a family thing. You don't have to go into details at all. Maybe they'll hold it against you, but I doubt it. In fact, its' more likely they will understand.

If it's a law firm, the chances are very high that they actually aren't going to understand.

Seriously, people are suggesting a lot of things here ("Work from home," "They'll understand") that may well be true in other professional cultures, but that just don't apply to the majority of US law firms.
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:30 AM on July 31, 2008


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